cover image Mattie and the Machine

Mattie and the Machine

Lynn Ng Quezon. Santa Monica, $12.99 paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-5958-0118-0

Nineteenth-century inventor Margaret “Mattie” E. Knight (1838–1914) struggles to win legal rights to her invention, which automated the paper-bag-making process, in this empowering, well-paced STEM narrative by Quezon, a fictionalized account of Knight’s life. Mattie, a 15-year-old mechanic living in post–Civil War Massachusetts, works in Columbia Paper’s all-female division. While the other women fold bags, Mattie maintains the machines that aid the process. When dismissive Charles Yates, Columbia’s original owner’s grandson, takes over, he employs several male workers, including Frank Niebuhr, whom Mattie trains as a mechanic. Mattie and Frank grow close until she learns that all the new male hires earn more than the women. After Mattie asks Yates for equal pay and is denied, she claims that she can invent a machine to fold the bags automatically. Yates proposes a bag-manufacturing competition between Mattie and Frank; if Mattie wins, he’ll give the women raises. But if Frank wins, she’ll be demoted from her mechanic role to paper bag folding. By populating the cast with resourceful women, such as Mattie’s roommate Eliza and her coworker Ida, a widowed mother of two, Quezon examines historical societal working conditions and expectations through a nuanced, feminist lens. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)